By some measures the game is more popular than ever, but among the young it's not the king of cool.
Trey is 9 years old and no different than most little boys. He rides bikes. Likes to fish. Plays football and basketball.
And because Trey's dad signed him up, he plays baseball.
"He plays, but he doesn't like it," Trey's dad said. "He just doesn't like it."
Same with Trey's sister, Taryn. She's 7.
"The last thing they want to do is play baseball," Dad said. "I asked my kids (recently), what would you rather do: play baseball, go fishing or what? They wanted to go fishing or ride their bikes."
What makes this story so intriguing is that Trey's last name is Griffey. Yeah, that Griffey. Dad is Ken Griffey Jr., one of the most talented players in baseball history. Grand-dad is Ken Griffey Sr., a former all-star.
Baseball is in Trey's genes.
But not in his blood.
Is Trey simply a precocious kid showing a little pre-teen rebellion by refusing to go into the family business? Or is he part of a new generation of kids, particularly African-American kids, who simply find baseball too boring to play, much less watch? Tell-tale signs point to the latter.
Once America's national pastime, has baseball become just that: past its time? Is baseball no longer cool? Television ratings prove football has overthrown baseball as this country's most popular sport. Madison Avenue suggests football, basketball, NASCAR and even golf are a better sale these days than the grand old game. Among African-Americans, the problem is even more acute. According a study by a University of Central Florida think tank, fewer are playing in the majors than at any time since 1968.
"We have to face it," Griffey said, "the game simply is not as popular."
Popularity is one thing, but being hip, being trendy, being cool is another.
Once upon a time, this country's sporting heroes were named Babe, Joltin' Joe and the Mick. There was Mays, Williams, Shoeless Joe. They were ingrained in the national consciousness through movie and song. They were icons, more popular than athletes in other sports. They dated celebrities, they married celebrities. They were celebrities.
Today, the stars needing only one name reside in other sports. There's a Tiger, a Shaq and a Dale Jr. There's a (Tony) Hawk and a (Mia) Hamm, a Serena and a Venus. Kids want to Be Like Mike even though Mike isn't Mike anymore. Michael Jordan retired after helping basketball become hip among the hip-hop generation.
None of them play baseball.
"I'm not sure it was ever cool," said the Devil Rays Terry Shumpert, who has played parts of 14 seasons in the big leagues. "I remember when I was little and I would head off to baseball practice. My friends would say, "Ah, man, what are you doing? Baseball is so boring. Baseball ain't cool. Let's go play hoops."'
Computer games, slick marketing by other sports and trend-setting companies such as Nike and Reebok choosing to put resources into other sports have conspired to make baseball seem out-of-date to the younger generation.
Of 2002's top 100 video game sales - a litmus test for what's popular among kids - only one baseball game (the same number as hockey) made the list compared to seven football and four NBA games.
Ken Smikle is president of Target Market News, a Chicago company that tracks marketing trends among African-Americans.
"Baseball is a game steeped in tradition and geared, it seems, for older generations," Smikle said. "The trend-setters like the shoe companies and the power drink companies aren't interested in that demographic. They want to attract the younger generations, particularly the ever-popular 18-24 males."
To do that, companies such as Nike and Gatorade sell fast-paced sports that Smikle says celebrate individuals instead of teams.
"You can sell an individual," Smikle said. "You can sell Tiger, you can ask kids if they want to Be Like Mike. It's more difficult to sell a team or an entire sport. That's baseball's problem. They don't have the stars like the other sports."
But baseball just isn't built to sell stars, said Bob Costas, the NBC and HBO broadcaster who is a passionate fan.
"Take basketball. If you turn on a game, the star, say Allen Iverson, is going to touch the ball at any given moment," Costas said. "In baseball, if you turn on a game right after Derek Jeter batted, you might not see him again for another hour."
Still, Costas and others think baseball's stars can be marketed better.
"When I was growing up, you only had a few (TV) channels and you watched baseball then went out and played it," said major-leaguer Gary Sheffield, who grew up in Tampa. "Today, the game of baseball isn't promoted right. These owners are too busy building stadiums and making money. They've all turned into businessmen instead of fixing the problems. They don't market the players anymore, not like the NBA or football."
Baseball has suffered through some public relations nightmares. There was the players strike that shut down the 1994 season, accusations of widespread steroid use and a growing economic disparity among the teams that has limited the competitive balance.
Then there's the game itself: slow, methodical and long. Celebrations are rare and usually reserved to the oh-so-quaint curtain call. Stand at home plate a little too long after a home run and the next batter gets a fastball in the ear.
There's no tongue-wagging, finger-pointing or fist-pumping. Hot-dogging? Showboating? Styling? Practically unheard of. What makes Terrell Owens popular in football makes Rickey Henderson despised in baseball. In basketball, Kevin Garnett is flamboyant. In baseball, Barry Bonds is arrogant.
"You look at an NBA commercial, you want to go out and play basketball," Griffey said. "You look at an NFL commercial, you're looking for someone to hit. They show excitement and that's what kids relate to. ... (Baseball) is not exciting. Look, when somebody (dunks a basketball), you rise up. But when somebody hits a home run, it's like ho-hum. There's nobody shaking, no (facial antics), no room for celebration. It's just not exciting."
At least not for a generation that grew up with Jerry Springer and Marilyn Manson, that subscribes to the idea that the more outrageous the better. And it might seem downright boring to the growing fan base of invented sports such as BackYard Wrestling, Slam Ball and the X-Games.
The city of St. Petersburg this year spent more than $250,000 on a new skate park. Only months before, two local Little Leagues, Pinellas Park American and ThunderDome, folded due to lack of interest.
Even golf and tennis increasingly have been marketed as sports for the hip, young and lively. While football changes rules and the NBA looks more like a raucous concert at every turn, baseball's biggest point of pride is that the game never changes. The product today is the same as 100 years ago.
Even the frequency of games could be a factor, causing more supply than demand. Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon compares the daily grind of baseball to the NFL.
"People talk about (football) for six days then only have to watch one game a week," he said. "A team playing five nights a week, it's just too much for the casual fan."
Baseball, of course, boasts that attendance for 2003 increased for the sixth consecutive year. Officials brag that television ratings for FOX's national games went up 6 percent over last year. And ratings for the playoffs are up. They point out that for the first time ever, all teams drew at least a million fans. All true.
"The fact that Major League Baseball attendance has rebounded so dramatically and the FOX national ratings have increased in a difficult television ratings environment is a true testament to our fans and the continuing popularity of our game," Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a statement.
Costas says he thinks the perception that baseball has lost its cool ranks somewhere between misplaced and flat-out wrong.
"When I was growing up, baseball was the only game in town, so to speak," Costas said. "But the other sports have become more popular. Baseball is just as popular, but the other sports, particularly the NFL and NBA, have increased their popularity.
"I think baseball has lost its hold on people's imaginations. Attendance figures and television ratings show the game still is popular, but the world has changed. It has had a cable television explosion where everything is reduced to highlights and snippets. Baseball taps into a different rhythm than that. You can watch the highlights on Baseball Tonight, but you don't get the same payoff as if you sit down and watch a game from beginning to end."
Keri Potts, a senior publicist at ESPN who oversees the network's original entertainment, said baseball remains relevant and still sells.
"Our audience is definitely interested," Potts said.
But the network has produced two movies, one on college football and the other college basketball. Its first original series is loosely based on the NFL.
Some say the diminishing interest among African-Americans may be a warning sign, that that community is sometimes ahead of the pop culture curve.
"When you come from a race that has been discriminated against forever, you want to do things that set you apart, that establish you as an individual," said Smikle, who is black. "So you wear different clothes, listen to different music."
Eventually, fashion and music, such as rap and hip hop, move into the suburbs, movie studios and marketing offices.
"And when it all becomes part of the mainstream," Smikle said. "It's time for something new."
By that theory, perhaps baseball simply is too mainstream, too antiquated to attract younger fans.
John Young saw this trend coming 20 years ago. An African-American working as a major-league scout, Young started MLB's RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) program designed to renew African-American interest in the game by creating leagues and clinics for teens. When he started the program in 1989, U.S.-born black players made up 17 percent of the majors. Now the percentage is 10.
"The point of RBI was not to produce major-league players, but to produce major-league fans," Young said. "More than anything else I wanted to create an awareness about this subject. I think it has worked on some levels, but if I had to do it all over again, I would've started it when kids are 10, not 13."
Young criticizes major-leaguers, particularly African-Americans, for turning their back on the communities where they grew up.
"(Sociologist) Dr. Harry Edwards said it best: players now live in Beverly Hills instead of Baldwin Hills," Young said.
But Sheffield said he and others, including Doc Gooden, have spent money and time trying to revive the tradition in their Tampa community only to see the efforts wasted.
"This history is gone," Sheffield said.
And the future looks sketchy.
So where does baseball go now?
Young would like to see a summit comprised of baseball, political and community leaders. Sheffield wants owners to start promoting the game the way the NBA does, celebrating its stars. Griffey believes kids simply will make their choices.
"My parents raised me that everyone is different and you can't force anything on anyone," Griffey said. "We've never forced baseball on (my children). We won't force football on them. As long as they get their grades, that's all we care about it. If you don't want to play baseball, that's your choice."
But the game needs to do more than just point to its history and let the younger generation make its own choices, said the University of Oregon's Swangard.
"Baseball has sort of rested on tradition, and tradition only takes you so far. When the new generations of consumers don't buy into the tradition, what are you left with? You're left with no fans."